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Lockheed A-12 60-6924 bird 1 by bagera3005 Lockheed A-12 60-6924 bird 1 by bagera3005
Lockheed A-12 60-6924 bird 1

Lockheed A-12

The only two-seat trainer A-12 built was nicknamed "Titanium Goose". It is on display at the California Science Center, Los Angeles, California
Type High-altitude reconnaissance aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed Corporation
Maiden flight 25 April 1962
Introduced 1967
Retired 1968
Status In museums
Primary user Central Intelligence Agency
Number built A-12: 13
Variants Lockheed YF-12
Lockheed D-21/M-21
SR-71 Blackbird

The Lockheed A-12 was a reconnaissance aircraft built for the Central Intelligence Agency by Lockheed's famed Skunk Works, based on the designs of Clarence "Kelly" Johnson. The A-12 was produced from 1962 through 1964, and was in operation from 1963 until 1968. The single-seat design, which first flew in April 1962, was the precursor to both the U.S. Air Force YF-12 interceptor and the famous SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance aircraft. The final A-12 mission was flown in May 1968, and the program and aircraft retired in June of that year.

* 1 Design and development
* 2 Operational history
o 2.1 Retirement
* 3 Timeline
* 4 Variants
o 4.1 YF-12A
o 4.2 M-21/D-21
* 5 A-12 aircraft production and disposition
* 6 Specifications (A-12)
* 7 See also
* 8 References
o 8.1 Notes
o 8.2 Bibliography
* 9 External links

Design and development

As preliminary work began inside Lockheed in the late 1950s, to develop the successor to the U-2, the designs were nicknamed "Archangel", after the U-2 program, which had been known as "Angel". As the aircraft designs evolved and configuration changes occurred, the internal Lockheed designation changed from Archangel-1 to Archangel-2, and so on. These nicknames for the evolving designs soon simply became known as "A-1", "A-2", etc.[1] The A-12 was Lockheed's 12th design in this development of the U-2 successor. Many internal documents and references to individual aircraft used Johnson's preferred designation , using the prefix, "the Article" for the specific examples. Thus on the A-12's first flight, the subject aircraft was identified as "Article 121".

In 1959 the CIA selected Lockheed's A-12 over a Convair proposal called KINGFISH. On January 26, 1960, the CIA ordered 12 A-12 aircraft. After selection by the CIA, further design and production of the A-12 took place under the code-name OXCART.

After development and production at the Skunk Works, in Burbank, California, the first A-12 was transferred to Groom Lake test facility, where on 26 April 1962, Lockheed test pilot Lou Schalk took the A-12 on its shakedown flight. The first official flight occurred on 30 April. On its first supersonic flight, in early May 1962, the A-12 reached speeds of Mach 1.1.

The first five A-12s, in 1962, were initially flown with Pratt & Whitney J75 engines capable of 17,000 lbf (76 kN) thrust each, enabling the J75-equipped A-12s to obtain speeds of approximately Mach 2.0.

On 5 October 1962, with the newly developed J58 engines, the A-12 flew with one J75 engine, and one J58 engine. By early 1963, the A-12 was flying with J58 engines, and during 1963 these J58-equipped A-12s obtained speeds of Mach 3.2. Also, in 1963, the program experienced its first loss when, on 24 May, an A-12 crashed near Wendover, Utah. In June 1964, the last A-12 was delivered to Groom Lake.[2]

A total of 18 aircraft were built through the A-12 program production run. Of these, 13 were A-12s, three were YF-12A interceptors for the Air Force (not funded under the OXCART program), and two were M-21s. One of the 13 A-12s was a dedicated trainer aircraft with a second seat, located behind the pilot, which was mounted higher to permit the Instructor Pilot to see forward. The A-12 trainer "Titanium Goose", retained the J75 powerplants for its entire service life.[citation needed]

On 28 December 1966, the decision was made to terminate A-12 operations by 1 June 1968.

In May 1967, A-12s were flown to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan and the BLACK SHIELD unit was declared operational. In February 1968, in preparation for the replacement of the A-12 by the SR-71, Lockheed was ordered to destroy all tooling used to create the A-12s.

Operational history

The A-12s were deployed operationally by the CIA in Operation Black Shield to Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan, with the first A-12 arriving on 22 May 1967. With the arrival of two more aircraft (24 May, and 27 May) the unit was declared operational on 30 May, and began operations on 31 May.[3]

Mel Vojvodich flew the first Black Shield operation, over North Vietnam, photographing Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) sites, flying at 80,000 ft (24,000 m), and at Mach 3.1. From Kadena, during 1967, the A-12s conducted 22 operations in support of the Vietnam War. During 1968, Black Shield conducted numerous operations in Vietnam and also supported the Pueblo Crisis. On 8 May 1968, Jack Layton flew the final mission of the A-12s, after which they were retired from active service and replaced by the SR-71. In the just over one year's duration of Operation Black Shield, the A-12s flew 29 operational sorties. On 4 June 1968, shortly after operations ceased, and just two-and-a-half weeks before the retirement of the entire A-12 fleet, an A-12 out of Kadena, piloted by Jack Weeks, was lost over the Pacific Ocean near the Philippines while conducting a functional check flight after the replacement of one of its engines.

During its deployment on Okinawa, the A-12s (and later the SR-71) and by extension their pilots, were nicknamed Habu after a cobra-like Okinawan pit viper which the locals thought the plane resembled.

On 21 June 1968, pilot Frank Murray took the final A-12 flight, to Palmdale, California.


Nearly a decade passed between the original conception of the OXCART program and the operational use of the A-12. After just 29 operational sorties, the A-12 were retired. At their retirement, in 1968, the eight non-deployed aircraft were placed in storage. The deployed A-12s returned from Okinawa, Japan to Palmdale, California and were also placed in storage.

All surviving aircraft remained there for nearly 20 years before being sent to museums around the United States. On 20 January 2007, after protest by Minnesota's legislature and volunteers, the A-12 preserved in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was dismantled to ship to CIA Headquarters to be displayed there. [4]


The following timeline describes the overlap of the development and operation of the A-12, and the evolution of its successor, the SR-71.

* 16 August 1956: Following Soviet protest of U-2 overflights, Richard Bissell conducts the first meeting on reducing the radar cross section of the U-2. This evolves into Project RAINBOW.
* December 1957: Lockheed begins designing subsonic stealthy aircraft under what will become Project GUSTO.
* 24 December 1957: First J-58 engine run.
* 21 April 1958: Kelly Johnson makes first notes on a Mach 3 aircraft, initially called the U-3, but eventually evolving into Archangel I.
* November 1958: Land Panel provisionally selects Convair FISH (B-58-launched parasite) over Lockheed's A-3.
* June 1959: Land Panel provisionally selects Lockheed A-11 over Convair FISH. Both companies instructed to re-design their aircraft.
* 14 September 1959: CIA awards antiradar study, aerodynamic structural tests, and engineering designs, selecting Lockheed's A-12 over rival Convair's KINGFISH. Project OXCART established.
* 26 January 1960: CIA orders 12 A-12 aircraft
* 1 May 1960: Francis Gary Powers is shot down in a U-2 over the Soviet Union.
* 26 April 1962: First flight of A-12.
* 13 June 1962: SR-71 mock-up reviewed by USAF.
* 30 July 1962: J58 engine completes pre-flight testing.
* October, 1962: A-12s first flown with J58 engines
* 28 December 1962: Lockheed signs contract to build six SR-71 aircraft.
* January, 1963: A-12 fleet operating with J58 engines
* 24 May 1963: Loss of first A-12 (#60-6926)
* June, 1964: Last production A-12 delivered to Groom Lake.
* 25 July 1964: President Johnson makes public announcement of SR-71.
* 29 October 1964: SR-71 prototype (#61-7950) delivered to Palmdale.
* 22 December 1964: First flight of the SR-71 with Lockheed test pilot Bob Gilliland at AF Plant #42.
* 28 December 1966: Decision to terminate A-12 program by June 1968.
* 31 May 1967: A-12s conduct Black Shield operations out of Kadena
* 3 November 1967: A-12 and SR-71 conduct a reconnaissance fly-off. Results were questionable.
* 23 January 1968: Seizure of USS Pueblo
* 5 February 1968: Lockheed ordered to destroy A-12, YF-12 and SR-71 tooling.
* 8 March 1968: First SR-71A (#61-7978) arrives at Kadena AB (OL 8) to replace A-12s.
* 21 March 1968: First SR-71 (#61-7976) operational mission flown from Kadena AB over Vietnam.
* 8 May 1968: Jack Layton flies last operational A-12 sortie, over North Korea.
* 5 June 1968: Loss of last A-12 (#60-6932)
* 21 June 1968: Final A-12 flight to Palmdale, California.

For the continuation of the OXCART timeline, covering the duration of operational life for the SR-71, see SR-71 timeline.



Main article: Lockheed YF-12

The YF-12 program was a limited production variant of the A-12 OXCART spy plane designed for the CIA and first flown in 1962. Lockheed was able to convince the U.S. Air Force that an aircraft based on the A-12 would provide a less costly alternative to the recently canceled North American Aviation XF-108, since much of the design and development work on the YF-12 had already been done and paid for. Thus, in 1960 the Air Force agreed to take the 11th through 13th slots on the A-12 production line and have them completed in the YF-12A interceptor configuration.

The main changes involved modifying the aircraft's nose to accommodate the Hughes AN/ASG-18 fire-control radar originally developed for the XF-108, and the addition of a second cockpit for a crew member to operate the fire control radar. The nose modifications changed the aircraft's aerodynamics enough to require ventral fins to be mounted under the fuselage and engine nacelles to maintain stability. Finally, bays previously used to house the A-12's reconnaissance equipment were converted to carry missiles.


Main article: Lockheed D-21/M-21

One notable variant of the basic A-12 design was the M-21, used to carry and launch the D-21 drone, an unmanned, faster and higher-flying reconnaissance craft. The M-21 was an A-12 platform modified by replacing the single-seat aircraft's Q bay (which carried its main camera) with a second cockpit for a Launch Control Operator/Officer (LCO). When mated to the drone for operations, this A-12 variant was known as the M/D-21. The D-21 drone was completely autonomous; having been launched it would overfly the target, travel to a predetermined rendezvous point and eject its data package. The package would be recovered in midair by a C-130 Hercules and the drone would self-destruct.

The program to develop this system was canceled in 1966 after a drone collided with the mother ship at launch, destroying the M-21 and killing the LCO. Three successful test flights had been conducted under a different flight regime; the fourth test was in level flight, considered an operational likelihood. The shock wave of the M-21 retarded the flight of the drone, which crashed into the tailplane. The crew survived the midair collision but the LCO drowned when he landed in the ocean and his flight suit filled with water.[5]

The M/D-21 performed operational missions over China in 1970 and 1971.

The surviving M-21 is on display at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington with a drone. The D-21 was adapted to be carried on wings of the B-52 bomber.

A-12 aircraft production and disposition
List of A-12 OXCARTs Serial number Model Location or fate
60-6924 A-12 Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, Blackbird Airpark, at Edwards Air Force Base, Palmdale, California (60-6924, the first A-12 to fly)
60-6925 A-12 Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, parked on the deck of the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, New York City
60-6926 A-12 Lost, 24 May 1963
60-6927 A-12 California Science Center in Los Angeles, CA (Two-canopied trainer model, "Titanium Goose")
60-6928 A-12 Lost, 5 January 1967
60-6929 A-12 Lost, 28 December 1967
60-6930 A-12 U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Huntsville, Alabama
60-6931 A-12 CIA Headquarters, Langley, Virginia[6]
60-6932 A-12 Lost, 5 June 1968
60-6933 A-12 San Diego Aerospace Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego, California
60-6937 A-12 Southern Museum of Flight, Birmingham, Alabama
60-6938 A-12 Battleship Memorial Park (USS Alabama), Mobile, Alabama
60-6939 A-12 Lost, 9 July 1964

Specifications (A-12)

General characteristics

* Crew: 1 (2 for trainer variant)
* Length: 102 ft 3 in (31.26 m)
* Wingspan: 55 ft 7 in (16.97 m)
* Height: 18 ft 6 in (5.64 m)
* Wing area: 1,795 ft (170 m)
* Empty weight: 67,500 lb (30,600 kg)
* Loaded weight: 117,000 lb (53,000 kg)
* Max takeoff weight: lb (kg)
* Powerplant: 2 Pratt & Whitney J58-1 continuous bleed-afterburning turbojets, 32,500 lbf (144.57 kN) each
* * Payload: 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of reconnaissance sensors


* Maximum speed: Mach 3.35 (2200 mph, 3,500 km/h) at 75,000 ft (23,000 m)

* Range: 2,200 nm (2,500 mi, 4,000 km)
* Service ceiling 95,000 ft (29,000 m)
* Rate of climb: 11,800 ft/min (60 m/s)
* Wing loading: 65 lb/ft (320 kg/m)

janes aircraft
* Thrust/weight: 0.56
Add a Comment:
Anzac-A1 Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2012
Yeah, most aircraft are either unpainted for testing or are given a simple colur, such as white. I don't know why this is the case, it could be so that they can easily identify any problem areas that say a coat of black would hide. And it also saves a bit of wieght.
arenafighter Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2011
Well Done!
GeneralTate Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
The J75s could push the Queen Mary powerful engines they were
creationstar Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Cool, but I thought that the A-12 would be black like it later variant: SR-71 and the YF-12.
bagera3005 Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2011  Professional Interface Designer
it was unpainted in flight testing
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